In university ministry I guess we’re all agreed on the need to equip Christian students. Here’s a key phrase we often use: ‘Christ is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ’ (Col 1:28). Formation is a key ministry goal.
With this as a starting place, we can ask, What does a mature student look like?
As I concluded in the Ethos article, we are not looking for Christian commitment so much as a specific kind of commitment. The kind of maturity we are seeking is not just the capacity to remain a Christian and retain faith, but to have a faith that is responsive to various urban, academic and professional environments in all walks of life. For example, a mature Christian will not simply be a Christian while also practicing law, but will bring their faith to their practice of law and vice versa. This is a faith that shapes life beyond questions of personal holiness and evangelistic conversations. In other words, we are talking about becoming a Christian leader — the kind of person who could be a leader in any setting, but who is, vitally, a disciple of Christ.
So then, how is such a person formed? In terms of conventional programming, our approach is often to do with teaching, and over the course of several years in a campus fellowship, we aim to give students a solid biblical theology as a foundation, and we hope they will grow further through short courses in theology, ethics, and so on. Meanwhile, many ministry leaders are now interested in how liturgy shapes people, with James K. A. Smith arguing that our ideas are not the prime mover of our actions.
But alongside our educational practices and our liturgical practices, we should also expect formation through social practices. Taking part in a Bible study group might be one example. But what about social practices involving the campus at large? Any act of service on campus, such as running a pancake stall or taking part in an open day, can be spiritually formative — more than just the end result of our theology or our ‘loves’.
‘Participation’ is a kind of social practice. In taking part in immersive, dialogue-driven activities, students are spiritually formed as people who habitually bring ‘faith’ and ‘life’ together, having their faith informed by the campus and bringing their faith into conversation with the campus. Such activities might include:
- Interviews as a part of regular programming (for example)
- Special issue-based forums, e.g. faculty-specific, or bringing a Veritas-style program to Australia
- Running passion talks
- Students befriending leaders of other campus clubs, taking an interest in campus issues, involving themselves in union activities and publishing
- Running expo events alongside conventional ‘mission weeks’
- Connecting with service staff such as cafe staff and janitors
I see these as events facilitated not just by staff workers but by students themselves. In activities like these, students learn not simply to look for opportunities to have their say, but to be hosts to conversation. To put it another way, they are learning to love. They are forming a habit of looking for where Christ might be at work in themselves and in others.
Image credit: Joshua Earle
Arthur Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.